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Green Acre #59: Lighting Up the Night Garden

ONE IS SOMETIMES GRATEFUL that things around here move at the pace of a mortally wounded snail. Isn’t one?

We have no electricity beyond a single outlet on the back porch. The rather charming bronze lanterns that flank the garage door are purely decorative. See, we’ve been waiting for this electrician who does a lot of work at the Capitol to show up. It’s been (quite) a few years, though My Prince informs me that the wait will be worth it. He’s the best. I suspect he must be retired by now.

Meanwhile, I have been provided an(other) opportunity to be creative with glitz and candles. While less convenient than flipping a switch, candles are so much more romantic. Right? Sigh.

For the porch, I pulled the rather alarming wiring in a thrift shop chandelier, stuck votives in the crystal cups, and duded the contraption up with glass grapes, crystals and various doodads.

Dotted about the garden are numerous small metal lanterns, Moroccan in feel, that I suggest are only enhanced by a patina of rust. The occasional bejeweled bird repurposed from the Christmas tree, adds a glisp* of light here and there. A tall verdigris tinted candelabrum seemed too light to break the glass garden tabletop (Surprise!). It is now planted elsewhere in the garden. A flotilla of votives replaced that tabletop experiment.

This has all been very pretty at night, though of course the issue was lighting all of those the candles. I have a vision of myself doing so—as usual wearing something drifty, long and white, floating along angelically with a long brass taper, instead of flip-flops and a Bic. So much work, candles. But so charming.

Then, last summer, LittleBird Nancy did a post on lighting, mentioning these LED lights from Terrain, then on sale for 25 bucks. These Stargazer Cascade Falls lights, had about 15 strands studded with bulbs about the size of rice kernels strung along nearly invisible copper wire, which is handy for twisting this way and that. Absolutely worth stringing an extension cord. A single set tangled in the branches of the (regrettably unscented) mock orange that hovers over the backyard table like a giant leafy umbrella creates an ethereal light show. Alas, the 4-foot set no longer seems to exist, at least from this source (it was really quite adequate for any reasonably normal person), but they do stock a Hollywood-scaled number,

Randall Whitehead, a San Francisco-based lighting expert, holds the makings of a fantasy landscape in his hands.

with 32 seven-foot light strands for $78.

On a more modest scale, Terrain has these delightfully itty-bitty iridescent battery-operated bubble lights, 15 feet of them on copper wire for $28.

I do love garden lights, and it almost seems worth the procrastination over the electrician, since many of them are now solar- or battery-powered, and we’ve saved the expense of wiring—even though the garden has been only semi-visible for 30 years.

There are solar spotlights for the trees, step lights, path lights and accent lights—in an extraordinary variety of shapes, and materials, and even moods. If you wish to waste a day, check out www.Houzz.com, the home decorating and housewares website that eats hours like pistachios. Observe the pot-bellied Echo Valley Byzantium Mosaic Kaleidolantern, with its “stained glass” shade. I would like this just so I could tell guests what it is with a straight face.  If I had a pool, I’d certainly want an Ellipsis solar ball with 16 color-changing options, but might make do with a globe on a stand for a summer séance or as path lights.

Fabulous for a garden party are solar-powered Chinese lanterns. Make magic with many, in different sizes, strung high and low in the trees, or along a garden path. They come in an array of delightful colors, reds and pinks, greens and purples, and most enchanting of all, white. For sizes and colors, the best selection I’ve seen is at Paper Lantern Store. These are nylon, not paper, so one would expect them to have a reasonable lifespan. The paper lanterns, with their metal cages tend to rust, which turns the shades to . . . crap. They also tend to stop working after a few evenings. But either paper or nylon, for a special occasion? Wow.

By the way, if your garden is sun-challenged, as mine is, most solar lights have back-up batteries.

Speaking of which, battery-powered pillar candles and tapers are now near-ringers for real, with wax bodies and flames that appear to dance on their wicks. No dripping on the tablecloth, and no hurricanes shades required.

San Francisco–based lighting designer and author Randall Whitehead offered up a trio of cheap and chic LED and solar lighting ideas. I love his idea of a flood light masquerading as a rock. Lowe’s home-improvement store has them for $29.98. They’re great for spotlighting trees and other large garden features—though they might overpower the gnome. If used at full power they’re 24 times brighter than standard solar lights. Fuss free, they go on at dusk, off at dawn.

Laser lights, which have bedazzled our night garden for the past few years, have become so cheap it’s a sin not to have different colors for each season, like Whitehead’s suggestion of lavender for summer. “Green laser lights say Christmas,” he says. “As do those red lasers that are also available. The lavender light is festive without being holiday specific—it creates little fairy lights in the trees and shrubbery.”

These do need to be plugged into something, and you have to play with the direction—anything in the light’s path will block the sparkle. I shoot mine down from a second-floor window, to cover the widest area.

Randy also plugs solar lighting for the patio umbrella, which creates a lovely puddle of intimacy, circling the table with warm LED lights. Toss in prosecco and a strawberry napoleon with fresh whipped cream and . . . talk about uplifting. “And, you can see what you’re eating,” he adds.

These are a snap to assemble, honestly. The little solar box pokes up through the umbrella’s top flap, and the strands, one for each rib, attach with clips.

One note of LED caution: To cast the most flattering light, always look for the word “warm” in the description, otherwise you’ll bathe in a cold glare reminiscent of an interrogation lamp.

*Glisp is not a word but should be.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird Stephanie writes about gardens and the outdoor life and decorating same: “It’s crap on crap—my favorite thing!” To read Stephanie’s earlier columns, type Green Acre into the Search box at the top of the page.


3 thoughts on “Green Acre #59: Lighting Up the Night Garden

  1. Jean Gordon says:

    Wow so much good stuff……am very interested in the Whiteheads lavender light
    do you know how and where I can get this?

    Your article was awesome…want to buy everything you mentioned…thanks for sharing

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      I agree. Good lighting makes all the difference inside — and out.

    2. Jean — Glad you approved! The lavender light is actually called blue, according to Randy, and is made by a company called Sparkle Magic. I found it super cheap here:

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